Malaysian duo finds success with financial planning app


They SAY a penny saved is a penny earned. With that firmly in mind, two childhood friends from Sitiawan, Perak created a smartphone app to help people with their personal finances.

Aptly named Saved, the app encourages the habit of saving by making sure every penny you earn and spend is tracked and digitally accounted for.

“Most people barely have an idea of how much they spend and find themselves short of cash at the end of the month,” says Alvin Ting Hong Jye, 32, one of the app’s creators.

Ting, who previously worked in the banking industry, says he has seen his fair share of people falling into financial woes. He explains that the situation is usually worse for young graduates who are not accustomed to monitoring their expenses.

“With the use of credit cards, coupled with poor spending discipline, anyone could spiral swiftly into debt,” he says.

Co-creator Allen Ding Loon Cai, 32, certainly remembers his own experience of overspending.

“I loved working in cafes. The ambience and the smell of coffee made it soothing for me to focus on my programming,” says Saved’s chief programmer, who worked in the US for eight years as a software engineer, adding that he would spend about RM10 on coffee and cakes each time he visited a café.

“I enjoyed going to cafés so much that I went there several times a day. Gradually, without being consciously aware, I was spending RM50 a day ‘working’ at cafés,” he says.

It was only at the end of the month that Ding would get a shock when discovered he had spent a whopping RM1,500 on coffee alone.

Because of this experience, Ding and Ting decided to look for a solution that would prevent such a thing from happening again. They tried using expense trackers and accounting applications, but found they were either too complicated or the design was not to their liking.

“That was when we decided to make Saved, our own app which is both simple and beautiful,” says Ding, who founded Snappymob Sdn Bhd along with Ting just for that purpose.

Minimalist in design, Saved, which is priced at US$5 (RM18), is a no-nonsense mobile application featuring colourful graphics that depict the user’s spending habit.

“We wanted to make it as simple as possible so that a student or a housewife could use it,” says Ting.

He explains that only three steps are required in using the app: entering the amount spent, typing the item’s name and choosing a category.

“We have several default categories to choose from, which includes bills, books, dining, education, entertainment, kids, travel and auto. Each category is assigned a different colour for easy discernment,” he explains.

One of Saved’s notable features is that it has a function for users to set a monthly budget goal.

As users record their daily purchases, a pie chart and a line graph prominently display the amount spent in relation to their targeted expenditure.

“The pie chart is useful in showing which categories you spend most in,” says Ding.

“For example, you may notice you have been spending more than 50% of your expenses in entertainment but only 20% on your baby. You get to weigh what your priorities are and which areas you would like to cut down on,” Ding says.

Meanwhile, the line graph compares the user’s daily expenses to his average daily budget.

Pointing to a green line on the graph, Ding says it represents the amount one should not exceed if one were to meet the targeted budget.

“If your expenses that day exceed the budget you have set, you will see a spike above the green line topped with by a red dot,” he states, adding that users are actively warned when they overspend.

According to its creators, the sleek and swift animation they use is helping to make Saved stand out among the numerous personal financing apps available online. Whenever an expense is recorded, users receive live feedback as the graph or pie chart shift in accordance to new data.

“Personal financial management does not have to be boring. Our app promises users a fun experience monitoring their daily expenses,” Ding says.

So far, customer feedback indicates that users just can’t get enough of the app’s animation.

Since its launch on Jan 15, the app has received critical acclaim and was the Editor’s Choice in Apple’s App Store for Brazil, France, South Korea and the Netherlands.

“Being a startup in Malaysia, we find these achievements really mean a lot to us,” confesses Ting.

Things were not always smooth-going for Snappymob.

“Our earlier version of Saved flopped. Last year, we managed to sell less than 400 downloads of the application,” relates Ting.

Ding admits that it was a tough year as they had to rely on savings and also contract work to sustain the company.

Even so, the revamped version of Saved is boosting morale and giving the company a new lease on life.

“We took seven months to redesign the app’s interface. Just 15 days after launching, it had managed to surpass last year’s annual sales revenue by more than eightfold,” says Ding.

Asked why they continued to develop the app despite initially meeting with failure, Ting says they felt they owed it to the initial batch of customers who paid to enjoy the app to labour on.

Ding, who oversees the app’s development, evaluated all user feedback and had a brainstorm session with his team.

“We determined that the app was still too complicated for general use. That’s why we decided to streamline the number of steps users have to go through to complete a record, ” he says, adding that users can now enter all necessary information on the same input screen.

Working on Pavlov’s theory of classical conditioning, Ting came up with the idea of rewarding users with live feedback in the form of animated infographics.

“Messaging apps will usually emit a sound to indicate our messages have been sent. Applying the same principles, we decided to do it through animation. Our users simply love it!” he said.

Saved’s change in direction clearly worked and it is currently enjoying modest sales worldwide.

However, Ding is a little disappointed that the app has not received much notice in its home country.

“I believe many Malaysians are using foreign budgeting apps. Perhaps there is the negative perception attached to locally made goods,” he suggests.

Ding says that Snappymob’s aim is to inspire confidence in locally-made mobile applications among Malaysians.

“We want the world to acknowledge that Malaysian-made apps are good too,” he says.

Saved is currently only available on iPhone, but Ting reveals that they are working to bring Saved to other platforms as well.

“We are also planning several updates in the coming months which are based on users’ needs and recommendations,” he says.

Pointing to the Malaysian Credit Counselling and Debt Management Agency’s report that states that more than 50 Malaysians are declared bankrupt every day, Ding says it would be wise to ensure one’s expenses do not exceed one’s income.

“By using Saved, coupled with self-discipline, you can definitely achieve your savings goal. Better ‘Saved’ now than never,” he quips with a smile.

Those wishing to learn more about the app can go to the company’s website at www.snappymob.com/saved.

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